By Yina Moore
President, Witherspoon-Jackson Development Corporation
In February of 2019, the Witherspoon-Jackson Development Corporation (WJDC) commissioned a visioning study to produce a master plan for the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood, in partial fulfillment of the organization’s mission to preserve, restore and sustain the historic character, diversity, and quality of life of the neighborhood.
On May 25, WJDC held the first in a series of meeting for a neighborhood participatory planning process. Using well established visioning techniques, the WJDC effort is working to engage neighborhood residents and property owners in a series of meetings to present data, existing conditions, and opportunities. Neighbors will review planning, policy, and implementation measures, identify options, and form a consensus on how best to support the historic character, how best to expand opportunities to ensure diversity, and how best to enhance the quality of life for all in the neighborhood.
This will be the first neighborhood planning and participatory process conducted in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood in more than a decade, since the Princeton Future sponsored Witherspoon Street Corridor Study. That study resulted in broad community consensus for the future of Witherspoon Street and suggested alternatives for the redevelopment of the hospital site, recommended functional improvements to infrastructure, explored policies to strengthen the presence of owner-occupants of single family properties, and advocated for economic development that would provide services and opportunities for Witherspoon-Jackson residents.
Building upon the work of the Witherspoon Street Corridor study, the first Witherspoon-Jackson master plan meeting in May oriented the neighbors to the planning process, and data collection and mapping. It also included a demographic survey of attendees. Witherspoon-Jackson neighbors engaged in lively conversations at several crowded tables where opinions and ideas were solicited on a range of subjects as rudimentary as the condition of sidewalks and as nebulous as defining the fluctuating boundary of the neighborhood. Preliminary results from that meeting will be presented at the next meeting in September.
What is the impetus for this effort? The Witherspoon-Jackson Development Corporation is concerned about the financial stability, environmental health, and wellness of a neighborhood for which limited incomes, deferred maintenance, and outdated building systems often present insurmountable challenges to many of its residents. The WJDC is particularly interested in sustaining the ownership, residency and vitality of long time Witherspoon-Jackson families that have been pushed out by rising property taxes, predatory lending, and the market forces of gentrification.
It is expected that the Witherspoon-Jackson master plan will address planning, zoning, and development issues in the context of the neighborhood’s designation as a historic district. Through guided efforts of preservation, restoration, and redevelopment, it is hoped that diverse affordable housing, neighborhood retail and services, and economic opportunities will accrue to the longtime and most aggrieved residents while benefitting the entire neighborhood.
Over the next few months, the Witherspoon-Jackson master plan will solicit the neighborhood’s input on a myriad of issues, including land uses, zoning, infrastructure, landscape, parking, housing, public art, etc. Individual flyers delivered to the 400-plus doorways (with Spanish translation), email blasts, postings, and newspaper ads will continue to be used to notice residents about the meetings. The participatory process will ensue through a series of sessions that will continue throughout the fall of 2019.
The WJDC applauds the efforts of the town to address community-wide concerns about residential scale and form. The work completed by LRK last fall informs our work going forward. The WJDC is also encouraged by council members who noted during the FAR discussions all the issues mis-matched zoning ordinances have created.
Why is WJDC taking on this project? Throughout the many public meetings where these topics of land use, zoning, affordability, quality of life, etc. were under consideration, it became increasingly clear that a comprehensive single ordinance solution was insufficient for the challenges different neighborhoods confront to varying degrees.
Therefore, WJDC looks forward to working with elected officials, municipal staff, the planning and engineering departments, including the historic preservation commission, the shade tree commission, the public art committee, and other citizen committees, as we seek to supplement preceding efforts to develop a neighborhood generated plan for the future of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. We hope this neighborhood-based effort will engender the support of the entire community.